The last play of the Lakeside Little Theatre season is Sarah Ruhl’s 2004 “The Clean House.”
Known for her feminist bent, Ruhl focuses on three main female characters and, at first, their relationship to cleaning, in this case, houses. The play begins with the women telling the audience about their deepest, most soul-wrenching take on what a clean house means to them. Unfortunately, after the opening monologues, the actors continue to address the audience throughout the play. Rather than the characters connecting, they seem to bump into one another merely because they are all on the same stage.
Amaranta Santos, a local jewel who acts and sings at lakeside, plays Matilde, the Brazilian maid who is both saddened and bored by her house cleaning duties. She is in search of the perfect joke and dedicates her life to that aim. Santos brings her reliable comic timing to the role.
As Virginia, Patteye Simpson plays a woman who loves to clean and is willing to take over Matilde’s duties for her. An LLT regular, Simpson has enjoyed better vehicles to display her undoubted abilities. There is little authenticity to the character of Virginia and if there is anything real to her, it’s when she’s chattering about why a mundane husband is the best choice a girl can make, not to mention the satisfaction Virginia gains through dusting, scrubbing and folding laundry.
Lane, played by Candice Luciano, another LLT mainstay, is a doctor dedicated to a career that leaves no time for or interest in cleaning house – she has Matilde for that lowly task. Luciano manages to circulate a bit of blood through the veins of the aloof doctor, but she too has appeared in more suitable roles at LLT.
What at first appears to be a play about how women feel when they clean up after themselves and others – perhaps heading toward some inner glimpse into the female psyche – chugs along into something else altogether. Lane suffers over a betrayal, Virginia finds solace in tidying up and Matilde tells the story of her comedian parents who laughed themselves to death.
Peter Luciano and Tina Foy play dual roles, first silently as Matilde’s dead parents, laughing and dancing until their demise. Luciano also plays Charles, Lane’s surgeon husband who has fallen in love with Ana, Foy again, a patient on who he has just performed a mastectomy.
Thus begins Act II, when Charles longs for Lane to accept his unbridled passion for Ana.
What just happened? Is the story about Lane accepting Ana and Charles’s new relationship? What about housecleaning? Does anyone care whether Matilde has gotten any closer to writing the perfect joke? Or that Lane has discovered it is actually her sister Virginia who has been doing the housecleaning? Now it’s a story about divorce, betrayal and cancer? What a mess indeed!
The bare bones set doesn’t help to pull the audience into this trite scenario. Empty frames on the walls, an unadorned balcony that doubles for the setting of Matilde’s dead parents, as well as a seaside love nest for Charles and Ana, adds no sense of humanness to a play already lacking in real emotion. Russell Mack’s directing seems a bit flat, though in all fairness he didn’t have much of a story to work with. This may not be the worst play ever written, but it’s a contender despite the shock of it having been a Pulitzer Prize finalist.
The choices LLT makes about what plays to perform each season appear to take into account the limited resources of the area’s acting pool. And this is understandable. Most of this season’s plays were admirable: “Time Stands Still” brought new acting and directing talent with a strong dramatic story; “Agnes of God” too had a rich moral conflict with its cast of three women; “Fiddler on the Roof” managed to corral talent from teenagers to nonagenarians in a high-octane performance. When the theater goes to the trouble of broadening its talent base the shows fare remarkably well.
Stage critic Jesse Green recently wrote in the New York Times, “Critics try to make objective statements based on responses they know to be subjective.” Critics write from their own experience, not the person sitting next to them or even the overall tenor of the audience. It is through their own senses that they report their findings to the readers. Obviously, a great deal of work goes into every stage production. The results, however, are not always as successful as the aspirations that precede it.
“The Clean House” backstage crew’s stage manager was Debra Bowers with Deborah Elder as production assistant. Set design was by Alan Bowers with a set construction team of Earl Schenck, Richard Bansbach, Ian White, Joel Smith, Alan Bowers, Terry Soden, Michael Koch, Paul S. Washer and Brian Veale. Alan Bowers and Gloria Bryen were the set painters. Props were handled by Deborah Elder and Joan Warren, lighting design by Shellie Checkoway and lighting by Johanna Labadie and lighting assistants Neal Checkoway, Alan Bowers and Dave Bostick. Sound design and visual effects were by J.E. Jack, sound design by operator Hallie Sheperd; wardrobe was Marlene Syverson and Glynis Ellens.
“The Clean House” ran through April 1, concluding the Lakeside Little Theatre’s season.